Last week I turned 39 and this particular birthday marks the intersection of a few significant paradigms shifts.
I am finally at the age where today’s most popular songs sound like anything but music to me. My pop culture references are just old enough to retire because my students are too young to be familiar with them. Wrinkles are starting to be noticeable. I traded in my Prius for a minivan. And my oldest child just hit double digits.
It’s an interesting stage of life. Maybe this is my personality or a byproduct of my break from religious dogma in recent years, but I find myself reading so many different philosophical works and the writings of great thinkers throughout history and I just find it fascinating.
So much of my adult life was spent being scared of and closed off to the exploration of knowledge outside of one book. Now, it’s like I couldn’t close the door if I wanted to. I finish one book and start the next. My mind is flooding with ideas and being used in a way it just couldn’t have been for so many years. It is like I was trapped and didn’t even know it. Like my capacity to reason was impaired. When I would come to something that didn’t make sense I had the old stand by rationalizations to fall back on . . .
- God works in mysterious ways.
- God’s ways are beyond our human understanding.
- We won’t fully understand everything here on earth until we get to heaven.
- Maybe we just aren’t supposed to understand it ‘this side of heaven’. That’s why we have faith.
- Faith is what fills in the gaps. I just trust that God knows what He’s doing.
- There must be a reason. God works all things together for good.
I could fill a book with internal dialogue like this.
I suppose it’s just nice to reach a point in my life where things make sense. It’s not only philosophy preoccupying my thoughts these days though. I may watch a show describing a murder in the 1800s or how people would believe that their loved ones had been stolen by fairies and replaced by changelings that looked just like them. These were real people who had no idea what was to come in 2017. All they knew was what was available to them at that moment. Their beliefs, no matter how outlandish they may seem now, were true to them. How could they know differently? Their actions were also a product of their time. No doubt they thought things through and rationalized their decisions. I suppose it never really occurred to me to pause and consider the many consciousnesses that existed before me.
History has suddenly taken on a whole new significance.
I find myself thinking about all the lives that came before mine and how full, how rich, how painful, how utterly encompassing the events were for those that lived them. People felt real emotions, formed intimate connections with others and some stopped to ponder the lives that came before them just as I am now. It’s surreal to think about. So many people have already lived and died. We are continually building on what they created. They laid foundations both literal and figurative. Some created works of art or advanced our scientific understanding and left the world richer for having had them in it. Some lives have been lived in the limelight, others in obscurity. So many are long forgotten. Millions of lives have been cut short in gruesome unfair ways. Others have peacefully drifted off to sleep surrounded by the people dearest to them. People have lived and died in a million different ways. No matter how rich or full a person’s life was at a particular point in history, in the end they met the same fate we all do.
It’s actually liberating knowing your time is limited. Every moment is so much more precious. This life is temporary but it’s not just a stop on the way to somewhere greater. It is great on its own. I am so grateful to have broken free of faith in what others said is reality and instead I can see, smell, hear, taste, touch, and experience all this life has to offer. I want to spend my brief timeline soaking up all the knowledge and wonder of this world that I can.
So I keep reading, watching, learning.
Only this last year did I discover Christopher Hitchens. Sadly, by the time I read his work, his life was already over. I will never be able to tell him how connected I felt to his writing, how moved I was, how sad I am to miss the opportunity to thank him.
But he left his mark. I only hope that one day I will have left mine.